Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Ever since millennials entered the workforce, we've been redefining career goals.

We're the generation that bore the gig economy, social media influencers, and the side hustle. We prioritized flexible hours, self-care and personal satisfaction in the workplace. We believed our dream job was out there if we just kept working to find it . But then, something shifted.

Call it disillusionment or just getting older, but the new millennial career dream is not having a job at all. Blame burnout in the digital age, where work-life balance is nearly impossible; or blame companies like Google and Facebook, who once topped the list of ideal employers before wage gaps, election hacking, privacy infringements and other scandals tarnished their reputations.

Whatever the reason, for some, the dream job has been replaced by the dream of early retirement. Enter the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement—a rapidly growing collective of big-thinkers who are saving to retire by their 30s and early 40s.

Hard work pays offPractical Money Skills

FIRE sowed its seeds on Reddit forums and millennial money blogs—which preach the gospel of 70%, AKA saving 70% of your yearly income for a fixed amount of time. Attempting as much on an average salary involves a lot more than coupon cutting. Every penny saved—through blood, sweat, second jobs and serious downsizing—goes into income-earning investments like low-fee retirement accounts.

It may sound far-fetched, but for some 30-something savers, retirement is already a reality. In September, The New York Times profiled several individuals, formerly employed in tech, finance, creative, and recruiting fields, who have already called it quits on the working world.

While some FIRE folks have had the benefit of hearty six-figure salaries, others have managed to punch out their time cards indefinitely by maximizing more modest salaries. But fair warning: it isn't easy.

Members of the FIRE movement looking to retire ASAP work round the clock and pinch pennies to the extreme—we're talking no dinners out, no movies, no gym memberships, and no life until their retirement finances are in order.

So how much downsizing are we talking about? One couple, Scott and Taylor Rieckens—both in their 30s and earning a combined $160,000 prior to ditching their 9-to-5 jobs—moved their family from California to Oregon to scale back on rent, sales tax, and gas mileage. They also swapped one of their cars for a more cost-effective bicycle. But on the plus side, they no longer work day jobs and have more time to spend raising their child and developing pet projects.

The RieckensThe New York Times

"The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It's more about gaining control of your time," Scott, a former creative director, told the Times. "If you dive into the definition of retirement, what you're retiring from is mandatory labor. It's not necessarily about piña coladas on the beach."

Las Vegas residents Joe and Ali Olsen can attest to that. Both began as teachers in 2004, when they decided they wanted to work less and travel more. By taking on extra jobs—from teaching summer school to running fitness programs—they slowly but steadily increased their earnings by about 50% without increasing their spending habits.

Joe and Ali Olsen with their childBusiness Insider

"We kept driving the same cars... We also ate at home, a lot. Eating out was rare, and a treat," Joe told Business Insider in 2017.

The couple continued living on a $20,000-a-year household budget and saving around 75 percent of their combined $80,000 annual income until they accrued enough to buy a rental property. Then they bought 14 more.

"When we started acquiring rentals, friends and family would ask when we were going to move into one of these three-bedroom, 1,800 square feet places, rather than our tiny condo," Joe told Business Insider. "But we were happy where we were. We never felt like we were depriving ourselves, because simple pleasures were enough."

A search of the FIRE Reddit forum, which boasts around 430,000 subscribers, reveals that some of the biggest hardships are letting go of the small indulgences. One user bemoans saying goodbye to craft beer, another gave up bowling. One user misses pizza delivery the most, while a few gear-heads have traded in their prized wheels for used cars. But many agree that a life without Starbucks and gym memberships is worth the long-term independence.

While there's no precise formula for extremely early retirement, there are some hacks to get started, including setting up auto-recurring bank transfers that withdraws money at set times depending on your paychecks, so that portions are allotted to checking, savings and investments automatically.

"When it comes to investing, the most common investment strategy of FIRE folks is to max out traditional IRAs and 401(k)s and put the remainder of their money in low fee index funds," notes Vice's Shomari Wills, who covered the phenomenon back in June. "Compounding interest helps the money pile up faster."

Then there are the bargain-basement tricks that the Reddit community shares with each-other—from renting video games at the library, to coupon-ing, and maximizing credit card points and other hacks.

Every penny counts www.valpak.com

But for all the bargain-hunting brags, the journey to financial freedom can take its toll. "Anyone else tempted sometimes to 'give up?'" one FIRE Redditer asked, before describing another taxing day of work and hardcore savings.

While financial independence gurus like the blogger behind Mr. Money Moustache and author Vicki Robin have fueled the movement, it's not without its detractors.

"Individuals who retire early are choosing to stop their earned income, which is the greatest defense against life expenses," Hank Mulvihill, a Dallas-based senior wealth adviser warned Marketwatch readers. "This is a decision not to be taken lightly."

One issue with retiring so early is unexpected expenses— think surprise pregnancies or health issues. If emergency money is tied up in retirement funds, penalty fees for early withdrawals will set you back. The precarious state of the healthcare system also makes planning ahead a challenge.

Then there's the issue of putting your happiness on hold in the hopes of future financial freedom.

"Financial independence shouldn't come at the cost of your happiness as you work endlessly and never enjoy the fruits of your labor in fears of derailing your early retirement goals," writes Hank Coleman on Yahoo Finance.

Time to relax amp.businessinsider.com

Remember the Olsens? They have a different take. In 2015, just eleven years after entering the workforce, the couple had saved over $1 million, and decided to quit their teaching jobs in order to travel around the world. While they still oversee their many rental properties, they've gained the flexibility to pursue the dreams they never had time for before. They also keep a blog, Adventuring Along, where they chronicle their travels and offer financial and real estate coaching.

"Teaching was one of our lives," the pair shared on their blog. "We loved it, but we also love our new one of travel and kids. Financial independence gives us the ability to take the risks to explore these lives. Despite loving our jobs, we quit, and couldn't be happier."

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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